A Common Sense Approach to Creativity

Some things I’ve learned over a decade+

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Photo by Jake Noren on Unsplash

Stop worrying about agents.

Focus on your work. Submit to journals. Query magazine editors. Blog. Go out and live an interesting life, and write about it. When you get good enough, and gain a big enough audience, an agent will find you.

Seriously, read more.

There’s nothing wrong with asking for advice. But you could learn far more about your favorite authors by reading the shit out of them. That refers to both quantity and quality.

Look everywhere for ideas.

It’s not that you don’t have good ideas. You just can’t spot them yet. Some people get so worked up searching for a brilliant idea, they miss all the great ones scattered throughout their day.

Know when to take a break.

Newer writers feel a lot of anxiety to produce a big body of work. Been there, it sucks to look at someone who’s been blogging for years. They’ve got a hundred posts floating around.

Do things you don’t want to do.

This one’s the hardest, even for me. A few years ago, I went bird-watching with my spouse. I kind of hated it. And yet, the experience made its way into my work in unexpected ways.

Make good bad decisions.

Here’s what I can’t tell my writing students, but I can tell you. Not sure about drugs? Try some and write about it. Stay out too late and drink too much every now and then. Date a hot mess. Trespass onto private property to see an abandoned asylum. Get arrested a few times.

Don’t quit your job.

A year ago, everyone talked about quitting their jobs to focus on their art. Now, more of us are speaking up about the hidden dangers of that fantasy. It’s not just about a stable income. Your job forces you to interact with people. Work keeps you grounded.

Create in sprints, not marathons.

A book isn’t a marathon. It’s a hundred sprints. Only a handful of elite pros can ever block themselves off from the world for 8 hours a day to write. The rest of us don’t have that luxury.

Write yourself in the universal.

Don’t just confess the terrible things you did last Saturday. Or the bad shit that happened to you. Write about what you learned from those low moments, and what they reveal about humanity.

Use selective detail.

On a similar note, try writing in a minimalist style — especially for blogs. MFA programs give some of the worst advice on detail. They parrot this tired maxim, “Show, don’t tell.” Hey, sometimes readers want you to cut to the chase and tell them what’s going on.

Keep your eyes open.

These are some of the ideas I would’ve discussed with that coiffed chick over martinis. But she wasn’t really interested in writing. Just the idea of it, as represented in movies and books about MFA programs. She really enjoyed hanging out with successful writers at bars.

Written by

She’s the funny one. jessica.wildfire.writer@gmail.com

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